WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats have invited immigrants and foreigners to President Donald Trump’s first address to Congress in an effort to put a face on those who could be hurt by the Republican’s policies.
Lawmakers typically get one guest ticket apiece for presidential addresses, as they will for Tuesday’s prime-time speech, and the invites often go to family, friends or someone from back home. To send a message to Trump, Democrats have invited an Iraqi-born doctor who discovered elevated levels of lead in the blood of many children living in Flint, Michigan; a Pakistani-born doctor who delivers critical care to patients in Rhode Island and an American-born daughter of Palestinian refugees who aids people like her family in their quest to come to the United States.
“I want Trump to see the face of a woman, the face of a Muslim, and the face of someone whose family has enriched and contributed to this country despite starting out as refugees,” said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., whose guest Tuesday will be Fidaa Rashid, a Chicago immigration attorney.
Soon after taking office, Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning all entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority nations and pausing the entire U.S. refugee program. The order sparked worldwide confusion about who was covered by the edict, with thousands gathering at airports and in other settings to protest. An appeals court blocked the order.
Trump has said he will issue another order along similar lines. Trump has also expanded the range of immigrants living in the country illegally who have become a priority for removal. The president has argued that the steps are necessary to protect the nation.
One of the people caught up in Trump’s executive order was Sara Yarjani, a 35-year-old Iranian graduate student studying in California. She was held at Los Angeles International Airport for nearly 23 hours before being sent back to Vienna, Austria, where she had been visiting family. She was able to resume her studies at the California Institute for Human Sciences after a judge halted implementation of Trump’s order. She’ll attend Trump’s speech as a guest of Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.
“Mr. Trump needs to see the people he has hurt,” Chu said.
The focus on welcoming immigrants will also extend to the response that Democratic leaders plan for Trump’s speech. Astrid Silva, who was brought into the United States as a young child, will provide the Spanish-language rebuttal; former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear will give the standard opposition-party response. Under President Barack Obama, hundreds of thousands of unauthorized youth brought into the country as children were given a reprieve from deportation.
While Trump vowed to immediately end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program during the campaign, he has kept it in place as president.
All will be on high alert for any Joe Wilson moments in Trump’s first speech to a joint session of Congress since his inaugural address. Wilson, a longtime Republican congressman from South Carolina, shouted, “You lie!” as Obama addressed Congress in 2009 about his health care plan. The debate over “Obamacare” sparked strong emotions on both sides of the aisle, much as Trump’s executive order and statements on immigration have done.
Trump’s comments on immigration play well with his supporters, but unnerve some Republicans who represent congressional districts with quickly growing immigrant populations.
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., invited a constituent he describes as a hero for helping to expose the Flint water crisis. He said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha came to the United States with her parents, who were fleeing the regime of Saddam Hussein. She has recently questioned whether her family would have been allowed into the country under the policies of the Trump administration.
A group of Democratic lawmakers recently wrote a letter to colleagues earlier this month urging them to invite guests who have, despite discrimination, made positive impacts on their communities. One of the leaders of that effort, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., asked Dr. Ehsun Mirza, the Pakistani-born doctor, to be his guest.
“I am proud to call Dr. Mirza a friend, and I hope that his presence on February 28th will serve as a reminder to the president that true Americans come in every color and creed – and not all are born here,” Langevin said.